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September 28, 2016

Key Points For Selecting a Burglar Alarm System—Part I


alarm-panel-3-hedAs an FFL, critical elements need to be in place to protect your files, computers, inventory and, of course, your firearms. Evaluating the structural security of your store should include its location, locks, walls and ceilings, lighting, security video systems, electronic access for customers and after-hours security of firearms. Of the last, a primary component in your asset security and protection plan should include a burglar alarm system, otherwise referred to as an intrusion detection system (IDS).

ATF Guidelines

In ATF publication 3317.2, available from the ATF resources website, several key safety and security actions are suggested, all of which will create “layers of defense and protection” against criminal acts. More specific guidelines from ATF pub 3317.2 includes the following:

  • Obtain an alarm system—There is no logical justification for a firearms business to be without an alarm system; many states actually require an alarm system for specific businesses, particularly firearms dealers. Most alarm companies will evaluate your needs and make recommendations at no cost. A simple system is far less expensive than the cost of replacing inventory. Now’s the time to ask yourself, are you in compliance with state and local law on your alarm system and other security requirements?
  • Evaluate your existing alarm system—Is it sufficient for the nature and size of your business? Are all points of entry protected? Do you have or need a panic button? Do you have a tamper switch installed on your system? Do you have cellular backup (considered a security industry standard) to protect during power failures or if power and phone lines are cut? Have you tested the system on a regular basis? What staff members are on the emergency and alarm call list and are their phone numbers correct and current? Have you met with the local authorities to agree on protocols when the alarm is tripped? Have you had a series of false alarms and, if so, is the problem in the system or is your response procedure being studied by a savvy criminal?
  • Protect your alarm codes—Have you limited the number of people who know your store’s alarm access codes? Are your codes unrelated to family names, numbers and other easily recognizable or determined sequences? Do you change the codes on a regular basis and whenever there is employee turnover? Have you written the codes where they are easily accessible to thieves or unauthorized employees?

It’s Different Than Your Home Alarm

alarm-panel-1It’s easy to think that a business burglar alarm system is similar to one installed in your home, but there are so many more options and enhancements to consider with a system designed for business use. Also, your alarm system just doesn’t protect against thieves, it also helps safeguard against fire, natural disasters and vandalism. You never know when or what kind of trouble will present itself, so it’s important to examine all the ways your business can be vulnerable.

So which burglar alarm system is right for your business? It depends on what you want to protect, where your vulnerabilities exist after hours, the spaces to be protected and your available funding. Thankfully, there are many different options, which means you’ll be able to provide a measure of security to your store without breaking the bank. At the same time, some security companies may offer packages that protect you from every angle, and so it can in some cases be cost effective to purchase an entire security package including alarm, security cctv and access control from the same vendor.

When evaluating what kind of alarm system your FFL storefront needs, consider the following specifications as a way understand how much you might spend to effectively protect your business.

  1. What the system protects—The system protects everything inside your retail gun shop, office areas and warehouse space from burglary, vandalism and dangerous intruders. Therefore you do not want to wait for a loss or disruption to occur at your business before getting an alarm system. Such systems not only discourage burglars, but they also discourage employee theft. On the flip side, they can also ensure the safety of your employees and assets.
  2. What the system consists of—Burglar alarm systems usually include a variety of different devices that detect entry, such as door and window contact sensors, motion detectors and glass break or vibration sensors, any and all of which are monitored by a third party vendor that is alerted when an unauthorized incident occurs. The monitoring centers for these vendors are available 24 hours a day, year round, and when they are notified of an intrusion or alarm event, you’re usually called within seconds to validate the alarm and to confirm whether police should be dispatched.(Note: In discussions our consultants have had with retailers following burglaries, frustration has been voiced regarding the delay that occurs by contacting the gun shop owner prior to contacting the police when an alarm has been set off. When this concern is raised with me, I advise the store owners to contact their local law enforcement partners to determine if state statutes require this procedure (due to escalating false alarm incidents nationwide and the increased burden on police departments to respond), and if there are any special instructions permissible for your FFL location that can bypass this snag with the monitoring station, i.e., that will allow them to contact the police first, then the store owner.)
  1. How much it will cost?—The price for the installation of business alarm systems will vary depending on the size of your business, on the number of protection devices you select and the type of monitoring for which you contract. For example, the price for an initial installation could be as low as $100 for a small store or building with only one entrance, but as you add more device options and increase the square footage and number of entryways to be covered, an installation can soar upwards of $2,000. Add to this the monthly monitoring fees from the vendor, which will likely also increase as you increase the store footprint that needs to be protected.There are also options to purchase versus leasing your alarm equipment, but I recommend contacting your accountant regarding which option is best for you. You’ll also need to verify the warranty coverage period for your equipment, whether you lease it or buy it (should be at least one year), and the lock-in period for the monitoring contract (typically five years) and negotiate to suit your needs and budget accordingly.
  1. Do Your Homework—A reputable alarm company will perform a site survey before recommending an alarm system or any additional specialty equipment. A firearms dealer has different needs than other businesses lacking such highly desirable inventory and the survey from the alarm vendor should acknowledge this. At the same time, FFL store owners need to follow those site surveys and equipment recommendations with the specific questions before plunking down money on equipment and ongoing monitoring.

One of the first things the FFL owner should ask is if the security company is licensed in the state they are working and hold current insurance. Second, they should ask to review the company’s service fleet, including its availability after hours and for late night repairs and technical support. You should also ask about any fees involved for service calls and equipment warranty work. Naturally, you should be sure to review the fine print in your service agreement and contract before committing.

This concludes the first part of my series on burglar alarms, which should have provided you a foundation for either a new alarm system or planning for an upgrade to the one you currently have in place. In the second part, I’ll talk about specific technologies available and what you can expect from them.